According to the hypothesis, grandmothers can help collect food and feed children before they are able to feed themselves, enabling mothers to have more children. Photo Credit: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Society The World24. October 2022

Grandmas Play Crucial Role in Human Evolution, Study Finds (Thank You, Granny!)

New evidence suggests that grandmothers were crucial for the evolution of mankind.

“Grandmothering was the initial step toward making us who we are,” explains senior author and anthropologist at the University of Utah Kristen Hawkes. Furthermore, grandmothers helped humans develop “a whole array of social capacities that are then the foundation for the evolution of other distinctly human traits, including pair bonding, bigger brains, learning new skills and our tendency for cooperation.”

The hypothesis, tested via a computer simulation, suggests that longer-living females were an evolutionary advantage. The grandmother could help the mother raise the young via food collection and caretaking. Furthermore, the theory suggests that menopause, a life stage that humans do not share with our primate relatives, is an evolutionary trait that came about so those older females could increase the overall survival rate of the offspring rather than continuing to produce their own.

“Grandmothering gave us the kind of upbringing that made us more dependent on each other socially and prone to engage each other’s attention,” says Hawkes. Though the hypothesis is not yet “proven,” the mathematical evidence collected via the computer simulation certainly supports the notion that grandmothers have been a crucial element in human evolution.

Smithsonian Magazine

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